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Key changes to probate applications during the Coronavirus pandemic

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Whilst the requirement for execution of wills remains archaic and unchanged, the pandemic has led to various modernisations of the process surrounding the application for Grants of Probate (along with Grants of Letters of Administration and Grants of Letters of Administration with Will Annexed). 

In order to obtain a Grant the assets and liabilities of a deceased person must be reported to HMRC by way of an Inheritance Tax Return (IHT205 for excepted estates and an IHT400 for all other estates where the deceased was UK domiciled).  The accompanying application for a Grant was then made to the Probate Registry leading to the issue of a Grant some weeks later.  

Inheritance Tax Returns 

Before the pandemic each Personal Representative (whether an Executor acting under the Will or a person applying to be an Administrator of the estate) acting had to sign the declaration within the Inheritance Tax Return before the same was submitted to HMRC.  

However HMRC have adapted the process, until further notice.  The new process allows professionals to submit completely unsigned Inheritance Tax Returns, provided the Personal Representatives details are included on the declaration page and as long as the application is submitted with confirmation that all those named on the declaration page have seen the Inheritance Tax Return and agreed to be bound by the declaration. 

HMRC have ceased to allow the payment of Inheritance Tax by cheque.  Payment can now only be made electronically, whether online or by telephone banking, which includes BACS and CHAPS payments.  Similarly, repayments will only be made by electronic payment, rather than by cheque.

Probate Registry

In a frustrating side, or arguably backwards, step during the pandemic, the Probate Registry has stopped accepting the signed two-page Statement of Truth based applications for a Grant and will now only accept a 23-page Probate Application form.

However, the Probate Registry will accept an electronic signature (including typed signatures) to the new Probate Application form.  That said the Probate Application form must still be accompanied by submission of the original Will, so we have not moved over to an entirely electronic system yet!

Deeds of Renunciation and Powers of Attorney are required in some circumstances and, whilst they must still be signed in the presence of an independent witness, the Probate Registry has confirmed it would accept electronic signatures also. 

In certain circumstances Affidavit evidence may have been required, to prove the identity of an Executor appointed in the Will for example.  The Probate Registry has allowed a Statement of Truth to be submitted in place of such an Affidavit whilst the pandemic continues.  As an Affidavit has to be sworn in the presence of a Solicitor or Commissioner for Oaths, which is extremely difficult in the current circumstances, the move to a signed Statement of Truth will allow many applications to continue to be progressed during the pandemic.

Whilst definite progress has been made, I hope modernisation continues once the pandemic is over!